Travel Guide: New Zealand

A trip to New Zealand has been at the top of my travel bucket list ever since high school. I was first introduced to this beautiful country during a volunteer presentation where I fell in love with the sights and activities this place had to offer. Unfortunately, at the time I couldn’t afford to be a part of that trip, so it just stayed in the back of my mind as a dream.

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Well, that dream finally came true this year when I ventured off to New Zealand for 10 days exploring the most I could within the short time frame. I used miles I accumulated through United (using both the United Explorer and Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Cards) to book my flight. It cost a total of 80,000 miles plus $72.00 in taxes. I will provide my full 10 day itinerary in a separate post, but wanted to share with you all a guide on things to do, what to expect, and pricing estimates.

TRANSPORTATION

WALKING: All the places I visited in New Zealand were very walkable within the city/town. There are other forms of transportation available, but I found walking around being the best way to go.

UBER: Various cities in New Zealand do offer Uber, which can be extremely useful and inexpensive when you can’t walk any longer. I found myself using it most in Wellington due to my hostel being a little further away from the city center. Queenstown has Uber as well, but the rates there are extremely high and the drivers are limited, so I wouldn’t depend on using this ride share app during your time there.

RENTAL CAR: The best way to get around would be renting a car. This would allow you the flexibility to take day trips and explore areas outside of the main city you’re flying into. I chose not to rent a car because I didn’t feel comfortable driving in a new country by myself especially since they drive on the left side of the road, which is opposite of what I’m used to in the states.

TOURS – COACH PROVIDED: There are plenty of tours available from the major cities. This is the route I took with any day trips I wanted to partake in. I booked all tours through Viator and each one included transportation to and from your hotel. This is definitely the most expensive option to take, but was the most convenient for me.

ACCOMMODATION

HOTELS: I stayed at hotels for the majority of my time in NZ and absolutely loved it! Since I now have the Hilton Ascend American Express Card, I’ve tried to stay at Hilton properties as much as possible to take advantage of the perks provided. Below are the details of the hotels I stayed at in both Auckland and Queenstown

Hilton Auckland
147 Quay St, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand
$367/night – King Deluxe Room Harbor View
Prime location at the wharf and walking distance from plenty of shops and restaurants

Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
79 Peninsula Rd, Kawarau Village, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand

$186/night – King Room Lakeside View
Located in Kawarau Village with a short water taxi ride to town for $5 with proof of stay at hotel

DoubleTree by Hilton Queenstown
79 Peninsula Rd, Kawarau Village, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand

120,000 Hilton Honors Points for 3 night stay in Standard Room
Located in Kawarau Village with a short water taxi ride to town for $5 with proof of stay at hotel

HOSTELS: There are plenty of hostels available all around New Zealand with rave reviews. As always, check out hostelworld.com to find the best fit for you. I booked a private room at The Dwellington hostel in Wellington and enjoyed my time there. The people were extremely friendly, the place was cozy, and as a personal preference, it wasn’t a party type of hostel.

THINGS TO KNOW

AIRPORT TRANSFER: I found the best option for transportation to and from the airport to be Super Shuttle. You can either book in advance or just walk up to the shuttle and pay on the spot. The price was 25 NZD for a solo traveler (less for parties of 2), which was cheaper than taking a taxi or uber. I found the shuttle extremely convenient for pick ups from my accommodation to the airport as I would book in advance and was always the only rider. Wellington was the only city where it was cheaper to order an Uber from my accommodation to the airport.

CURRENCY: New Zealand Dollar. Currently 1 USD = 1.48 NZD. I withdrew 100 NZD from an ATM in downtown Auckland on my day of arrival. The cash ended up lasting me the entire trip because everywhere I went accepted credit card, so I used my card (no foreign transaction fees) the majority of the time.

COSTS: US citizens may be taken back a bit at first when looking at prices, but I found them to be pretty equivalent to US prices in major cities once you take into account the conversion rate. I had been warned that New Zealand was extremely expensive, but I was able to find steals for clothes at thrift stores and cheap eats outside the city centers.

TIPPING: Not required as servers receive a normal, living wage in New Zealand. However, if you receive exceptional service then it is not uncommon to leave a tip. I also always gave a tip to my tour guides, which was greatly appreciated.

LANGUAGE: English is spoken in New Zealand, so there was no language barrier for me. ‎Māori is also one of the official languages; however, I would only hear people say phrases.

SAFETY: Every single person I encountered was genuinely friendly. I never had a bad experience or felt unsafe. I will say that I did not walk around much once it got dark out as I took major precautions while being alone; however, I have had situations in other countries where I felt uncomfortable even during the day. That was nonexistent in all cities I visited in New Zealand.

THINGS TO DO

Auckland

  • SHOP AT BRITOMART: This adorable area nearby the wharf is filled with clothing stores to browse through and delicious restaurants to stuff your face
  • TAKE IN THE VIEWS FROM THE SKYTOWER: Unlike skytowers in other major cities, this wasn’t overbearing with crowds. I just soaked in the views of the Auckland skyline. Cost: $32 adult admission Website: SkyTower Auckland
  • GRAB A BEER BY THE WHARF: Watch the ferries go by as you try some of the local beers at one of the many bars located on the wharf
  • GET ON A FERRY TO WAIHEKE ISLAND: This is an activity that I wasn’t able to do due to time constraints, but have heard from many people that it’s a must do when visiting Auckland. You can ride a bike around the island, visit wineries, or hit the beach.
  • TAKE A DAY TRIP TO HOBBITON/ROTORUA: This was my absolute favorite activity during my time on the north island. Auckland is a great base for you to take a day trip to Hobbiton and/or Rotorua as there are many tours available. Now, I’m not a Lord of the Rings fanatic, but I was in complete awe of the movie set. The details were amazing and it was so interesting to hear stories from the guide and all the work that went into creating Hobbiton.

    I visited Te Puia in Rotorua, which is the home of natural hot springs and geysers. Unforunately, I didn’t get to see the geyser erupt, but it was still a beautiful site to check out. I booked my tour through Viator with a local tour company. Cost: $282.77 included transportation, lunch, admission to Hobbiton/Te Puia/Waitomo Caves Tour Company: FlexiToursNZ

Wellington

  • EXPLORE THE CITY BY FOOT: The best thing you can do in Wellington is walk around. There are so many cute shops, bars, and restaurants to stop in. Don’t expect large skyscrapers or anything of that sort in this city. It felt very lowkey, but full of character and unique places to check out.
  • SHOP ALONG THE GOLDEN MILE: Get your wallets ready and do some shopping! The “golden mile” consists of clothing and department stores along Lambton Quay and Willis Street. I kept telling myself I was done shopping after doing some damage at one store then I would find myself instantly in another admiring what they had to offer. This is one of the busier areas of Wellington.
  • BOARD THE WELLINGTON CABLE CAR: This short ride on the cable car is definitely something you can’t miss! As you reach the top, you find yourself in awe of the view. It’s about 9USD for a roundtrip ticket, which is what I purchased but ended up walking down to the city center through the botanic garden. You can board the cable car from Lambton Quay along the Golden Mile.
  • STROLL THROUGH THE BOTANIC GARDEN: I’ll admit that I’m not big on gardens as I do not have a green thumb at all, so I’m often not impressed by them. However, this one took me by surprise! First off, I wasn’t expecting to walk through the garden as I bought a ticket back to the city center on the cable car. I realized I had plenty of time to kill and could use a little walking after all the good eat I indulged in during my time in Wellington. So, I followed the signs and was taken back by the serenity of it all. The place was quiet and absolutely beautiful.
  • SOAK IN THE VIEWS FROM MOUNT VICTORIA: As you can see from the pictures below, these views were stunning. I took an uber up to the lookout point rather than hiking up, so choose whichever path you prefer! I went early in the morning (8AM) and the place was pretty empty. The lookout area is small, so I wouldn’t allot too much time here if you choose not to hike, but definitely don’t skip out on the views!
  • EAT AND DRINK ON CUBA STREET: This vibrant street is full of restaurants and bars to check out. I was able to spend a few hours walking around and exploring what places had to offer. Definitely check out Havana Bar right outside of the main street for a great Cuban vibe and drinks. Fun Fact: This street was named after a British settler ship named Cuba rather than the country itself.
  • VISIT THE MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND TE PAPA TONGAREWA: Address: 55 Cable St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand Hours 10AM-6PM I really enjoyed this museum because of the variety of stories it told. The deep culture of the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand is often overlooked, so it was interesting and necessary to learn more about that. Aside from those stories, I loved the section on women’s right (New Zealand was the first self-governing country to grant all women the right to vote). It was also extremely touching and emotional for me to see “The Mixing Room” where refugees in New Zealand shared their stories.

Queenstown

  • ADMIRE THE BEAUTIFUL VIEWS FROM EVERY ANGLE: From the moment I arrived in Queenstown, I was taken back by the amazing views everywhere. A smile lit across my face as we flew over the mountains with turquoise water streaming along the river. No matter what you decide to do in Queenstown, you’ll be in awe by the beauty of it.
  • BUNGY JUMP WITH AJ HACKETT COMPANY: One activity I knew I had to do in New Zealand was bungy jump. AJ Hackett was the founder of the first commercial bungy jump in the world, located at Kawarau Bridge (pictured below). This was by far my favorite part of the trip. I had gone sky diving a few years ago, so didn’t think I would be that thrilled by bungy jumping but it by far exceeded my expectations. Now, there are many companies that offer this in Queenstown, but I would definitely recommend going with AJ Hackett. Cost: 205 NZD *discounts available for packages and advanced booking online* Website: AJ Hackett Bungy
  • GO ON A CRUISE TOUR OF MILFORD SOUND: This gorgeous landscape is a must visit as pictures do not do it justice. Although it’s a full day tour from Queenstown, the time goes by so fast as you’re driving through the beautiful Fiordland National Park. As the tour wraps up, you’ll be disappointed that you have to depart from such an incredible place. Cruising through Milford Sound was such a serene experience. The weather was perfect when I went, but I was told by guides that there really isn’t a bad time to visit because even when it pours, the views are magnificent as multiple waterfalls form along the mountains. I booked my tour on Viator through GreatSights tour company, which included pick up/drop off from your accommodation in Queenstown, a glass roof coach, and a buffet lunch on the cruise. Cost: $151.15 USD Website: Viator – Milford Sound 
  • RIDE ABOVE AND UNDER WATER WITH HYDROATTACK: Queenstown is infamous for their adventurous activities offered. It is a playground for all adrenaline junkies. One thing that you’ll see a lot is the jet boat rides through the canyons. While that was something I wanted to do, I came across this Hydroattack experience during my search of jet boat companies and decided to book this instead. No regrets at all! It was such an unique experience as you dove under water and shot up with the great views all around you. Cost: $134 NZD Website: Hydroattack
  • VISIT VINEYARDS IN CENTRAL OTAGO: I am a wine lover, so this day was so enjoyable for me. New Zealand produces some amazing wine and they’re especially known for their Cabernet Sauvignon. However…I am a red wine “enthusiast” so Central Otago was the perfect place for me to visit since they’re big on Pinot Noir. There are so many vineyards to visit in this area, all of which offer a great view of the valleys. I went with a tour (a DD is definitely necessary) where we visited 3 wineries and 1 restaurant where a glass of wine was also included with the lunch spread. Again, I booked this on Viator which linked me to Appellation Wine Tours and I thoroughly loved every aspect of it. Our guide was great and I was glad to be part of a small group so that we could share our travel and wine experiences. Cost: $125 USD Website: Viator – Central Otago Wine Tour
  • TAKE THE GONDOLA UP TO THE SKYLINE: If you want to see an unbelievably stunning view of Queenstown, you need to take the gondola up to the skyline. It really will take your breath away. There are shops, a cafe, and activities at the top so you can spend plenty of time there. Tickets can be purchased in town or at the Skyline entrance.
  • GO FOR A LUGE RIDE: I was a little hesitant about the luge ride because I thought it was mainly for children, but also because I actually get scared with anything driving related (yes, I am one of those people who drive speed limit with the occasional 5-10 over). Well, I am so glad I did it! This was so much fun and honestly perfect for any age. It went a lot faster than I expected and I had kids flying past me. The tickets were inexpensive and you can purchase them as a combo with your gondola ticket.
  • SHOP AND EAT IN TOWN: Queenstown is an adorable town full of shops and restaurants. Although the area is a bit small, I never got bored of it during my 3 days of exploring. I stopped into basically every store and purchased some amazing clothes at thrift shops. I heard a lot of people mention how expensive it was, but I actually thought it was cheaper than Auckland and Wellington. There was a variety of cuisines to choose from, so finding a place for lunch and dinner was never an issue.

Now, this guide is far from extensive of all that New Zealand has to offer. I spent 10 days there and knew when I was leaving that there was so much that I hadn’t touched. It’s definitely a place I would visit over and over again. If you haven’t visited or hadn’t planned to, I 100% recommend adding it to your list! Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions you have about my trip!

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